Meditation vs Hypnosis  *cue the ‘Rocky’ theme tune, trumpet fanfare… No, Stop it. There will be no unscheduled bout happening today.

“What’s the difference between meditation and hypnosis?”

Oh if I had a dollar for every time I have been asked this question. I lost count centuries ago. But it’s a fair question – none-the-less.

Meditation and hypnosis both require a focus of the mind – often (but not always) purposefully directed. I am skilled in using and administering hypnosis but less so with meditation, so the differences and explanations I mention here are my personal opinions. I welcome and encourage any meditative types to please comment if you feel I’ve missed anything.

Okay, I’m going to offer up two explanations. One very concise (for those with short attention spans – ps. I can help with that) and one a little more in-depth.

EXPLANATION ONE – the short version.

In hypnosis the focus is generally on the subconscious mind, and in understanding and reprogramming past negative learned thoughts, reactions and behaviours as well as teaching the subconscious how to ascertain a certain level of physiological control of the body.

In hypnosis you enter into very deep concentrative states, sometimes very rapidly, where you are able to replace bad habits and negative thought patterns from the past with positive, inspiring thought models for the future.

In hypnosis, the process is often administered (hopefully) by a skilled operator, especially in therapeutic interventions. This has led to the notion of being ‘mind controlled’ and has meant that hypnosis has attracted bad press which has placed a huge obstacle in the path of those trying to bring hypnosis and it’s therapeutic efficacy to the mainstream. However, ‘guided visualisation’ seem to be perfectly acceptable – as long as the word ‘hypnosis’ isn’t used.

In meditation the focus is on the present moment, your heart and your soul. The main focus of attention is on ‘here and now’. In the ‘now’ in meditation you are supposed to feel expanded and connected with one another and everything, in a state of calm peace. It is the flow of love, the giving and receiving of love that lies at the heart of meditation.

In meditation I have often heard of a more spiritual base of development, quite aside from religious prayer – where you decide what you need and you do all the talking to some higher entity. Meditation in a way detaches oneself from the heart and soul and allows them both to do all the talking while you listen quietly.

I hope that cleared things up… I’ll await those comments from the meditative bunch.


EXPLANATION TWO – the extended version

What is hypnosis?

Is hypnosis a ‘state of deep relaxation’? Perhaps – but not always so. Hypnosis can be relaxed (therapeutically speaking), but really it’s any state of mind that makes us more: dissociated, focussed and suggestible.

When people are experiencing a horribly traumatic experience, they become immediately and infinitely more suggestible. I’ve worked with people who were so traumatized that, even years later, they still respond to environmental ‘post-hypnotic suggestions’ (from less than a minute of traumatic experience) which take them right back to the original trauma.

For instance, a war-weary veteran whose heart pounds every time he hears a car backfiring, or a driver who feels anxious whenever she passes the corner where she had that accident. This is pure hypnotic phenomenon, but it’s not relaxation at all.

And what’s more, all emotions are, to a greater or lesser extent, hypnotic.

Emotional hypnosis

That’s right – emotion is hypnotic. Ever been in lust? Love? A rage? Think about how focussed and suggestible (and disassociated) you become in these states.

Anger is very hypnotic – it focusses our attention and makes us suggestible. And, of course, depression is a trance-like focus. All these states are hypnotic, which is why they are so amenable to hypnotic treatment.

Anyone who can make you more emotional will also be making you more suggestible. When cults (or politicians) want to influence people’s belief systems, they will try to raise the emotional pitch. And such charismatic people are naturally more hypnotic.

Really, all therapists use hypnosis to some degree (even if they are ignorant of this). If a counsellor asks you to direct your attention to a recent break-up or the pain of your childhood, they are encouraging disassociation from the here and now (which can be a feature of hypnotic trance). And the state of flow, or being ‘in the zone’, is also very focussing and therefore shares similarities with relaxed therapeutic hypnosis.

So my point is, hypnosis isn’t ‘just a state of relaxation’ as you might read on a million hypnotherapists’ advertising blurbs. It’s actually much more interesting than that.

Meditation v. hypnosis

Just like hypnosis, I can see how meditation may have great benefits, but similarly it could also have drawbacks if used unwisely. I’m thinking here of the case of the woman who meditated up to 12 hours a day and began to find she could no longer cope with some of life’s practicalities.

It’s not always a question of ‘more is better’; sometimes more is just more and may even be harmful. Taking a hundred painkillers is most certainly not better than taking one, some would argue that taking none is even better.

Hypnosis, used purposefully, will generally have a very specific psychological (and therefore behavioural) aim. We hypnotize people to help them engage in the kinds of thoughts, feelings, and actions that will stop them being depressed or drinking heavily or being traumatized or phobic. We use hypnosis to help them switch off pain or maximize their motivation in sports.

Meditation may have the effect of making us much calmer day-to-day, but may not be intentionally directed to stop someone smoking or to treat a specific phobia.

Likewise, clinical hypnosis isn’t generally used with the sole intention of helping someone achieve an ’empty’ mind or objective ‘mindfulness’.

So one difference between hypnosis and meditation is for what purpose they are used.

Ultimately, asking what the difference is between hypnosis and meditation is a little like asking what the difference is between alcohol and wine.

Meditation’ and ‘hypnosis’ are just words and could sometimes mean exactly the same thing. Some hypnotic states could be more like quiet meditative states, and I’m sure some people who meditate experience profoundly hypnotic imagery sometimes.

Hypnosis and meditation can both make you happier

I have seen the judicious use of hypnosis change lives by helping people rid themselves of unwanted patterns of thought and emotional chaos. And there is also some research that regular meditation or self-hypnosis can make us happier.

I use hypnosis to help people detach from destructive emotions and calmly begin to see wider and happier possibilities (for example – feeling calmer around spiders). One meditation technique, that of ‘mindfulness’, seeks the same result as the person meditating seeks to name his or her feelings whilst not disentangling themselves from them. In this way, meditation can help people.

Hypnosis used therapeutically will often focus on helping someone relax around memories of the past or prepare to feel better and act differently in the future. Meditation, as I understand it, is often an attempt to be absolutely in the present. But again, people in hypnosis will often report feeling totally focussed in the now.

So the question, “What is the difference between hypnosis and meditation?” is simple, but the answer is a little more in-depth.

I see great benefits from both modalities. If you have any views – please ‘enlighten’ me.

Richard Scott
Mindset Coach, Clinical Hypnotherapist, Psychotherapist

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